Transcribed interview by Visual Collaborative
October 2019 11 min read
Ade Adekola is a prolific artist, award-winning architect, entrepreneur, public intellectual and author who has produced over 40 different bodies of contemporary works. He has been showcased internationally at art festivals, fairs, and galleries on the African continent, starting from his home city Lagos. As a main feature in our Supernova interview series, Adekola an innovator in experimental photography discusses his architecture background, perspectives on developing a visual language, self-awareness and talks about what inspires his overall design process.
(VC) Tell us about your day to day tasks.
(Ade Adekola) My day to day tasks? right now I am sitting in the office behind the desk. I almost invariably behind the computer. For me in terms of one aspect, the execution of my creative work is done behind the computer. My administrative work is also done behind the computer. My other activities are also done in behind the computer. What I am doing behind the computer tends to vary [Adekola laughs]. Everything depends on the pattern or mode I am in. And if I look at the creative side of what I do, its experimental photography. The process has its own lifecycles, like from the capture date if you will of the photograph. The experimental photography side of things, the inception point of the image to the finish of the fine art piece I am happy with. To me, capture represents 5% of the effort. The balance of 95% of the effort is probably is the cognitive idea. Trying to figure out how to execute it, what is the best way to turn it into a visual narrative. How to make it a cohesive body of work. And then the balance would be experimenting on a particular visual language.
(VC) Your audience is not just local but an international audience. But your immediate audience is local. When you talk about experimentation and visual languages, for the person giving their money to an art collector to purchase your art, what does visual language mean?
(Ade Adekola) I believe that visual language, visual images are universal like the alphabet that goes around the world. It’s like syntax or a thread that holds it all together. It can also be about a particular subject, for instance if we look at my last exhibition ghosts of bar beach, this was both a documentary and fine art. From a documentary perspective, the visual language was created by the context, the body of work was cohesive so that was the visual language. Secondly is the visual language and how I edit. All the work in that exhibition used a similar technique that I did not use in other bodies of work, so they look district and not like Icons of metropolis or any other body of work, for me this is visual language, what it looks like, something that is easy to be recognized and how it turns in a reference. A describable reference.
Works of Ade Adekola, Optic Nerve exhibition. Photo by The Avenue Creative LTD
(VC) When you come to a point of a Visual language. Do you get there by accident or repetitive tasks like you know what the pattern is going to be?
(Ade Adekola) Literally, talking about the lifecycle of the production of the artwork goes into a number of phases. Say one is the image capture, the rest is the production, the cognitive narrative, the execution of the idea and ensuring that all of it hangs together. So with that phase, there is a lot of experimentation, I test a number of things to figure if it works, finding a way of making sure it is repeatable and apply to various periods of time. And then the balance will be the producing of the work. Executing, finalizing and cleaning up the image. In a way fragmenting the image and putting it back together. I want to take any image and find different ways to fragment it. When it comes to the body of work I reconstitute the body of work in the same way. So that is sorta the high-level.
(VC) As a creative professional who is multifaceted and an active participant in urban spaces, does your background in architecture affect how you approach your projects specifically for the city of Lagos?
(Ade Adekola) The answer is yes and no. The yes bit of the answer is I was educated as an architect so I tend to think in a very structured and sequential way. I tend to apply divergent and convergent thinking styles and a few others I developed through other pursuits. They are all harnessable within the field of architecture but when I approach creative fine artwork sometimes utilize some architecture language and terminology. But I have not purposely thought of it. The way I put together a body of work uses a different side of the brain than what one would use in architecture. When I am developing art, it is more multiple streams of consciousness converging to create epiphanic insights and when I am doing architecture, it is more scientific, measured and predetermined. The answer is there. When I am working on art I have more tolerance for ambiguity. I am more happy with serendipity: accidents and all things wonderfully made in the creative process
when I am doing art, it is more linguistic and when I am doing architecture, it is more scientific, measured and predetermined. The answer is there. And when I am working on art I have more tolerance for ambiguity. I am more happy with serendipity, accidents and all things wonderfully made in the creative process
(VC) Are you more right side or left-sided?
(Ade Adekola) I think I flip [Adekola laughs]. Dancing around both sides of my skull. In all seriousness when I am doing art, it is more linguistic and when I am doing architecture, it is more scientific, measured and predetermined. The answer is there. And when I am working on art I have more tolerance for ambiguity. I am more happy with serendipity, accidents and all things wonderfully made in the creative process. I don’t need references, with architecture you need them which is how you are thought. The art side of it I have to design the constraints, design the limits within the context of the body of work, the idea and really investigate it. I hope this makes sense?
Ade Adekola. Photo by The Avenue Creative LTD
(VC) Everyone has a distinctive fingerprint with creation. Do you use the same tools in architecture as you use in creative expression or photographic manipulation?
(Ade Adekola) What we know about all professions; Every profession has a tool kit. Just like doctors have their stethoscopes. In architecture, as I was taught in those days, was to use a pencil, a compass, drawing tables, angles etcetera. The tools we use today are different, but their function remains the same. In photography, I recreate analog functions within a digital environment using predominantly digital tools. It’s like being in a digital darkroom – the possibilities are endless and dependent on the vision of the user. Some tools are prescribed, and some are not. As an experimental photographer I sometimes have to create my own tools and processes, for instance, if I wanted to make something look-say, like silk or have a certain color then I can do that. The distinction of the way I would approach the tools today compared to how I used the tools a number of years ago is based on dimensions of control and freedom.
(VC) Moving into perspectives. We all know a perfect world does not exist, but if one does what core values would Ade Adekola make a staple in the community?
(Ade Adekola) What society are we talking about? Nigerian society? I think I will address Nigeria. But I suspect that answer would be universal. Fundamental values that should be addressed in society, in my opinion. I would say curiosity. Through the education system to retain the curiosity of a child. In that case, be able to understand the fundamental principles of the subject you are studying and then applying it to your circumstance. This way gives us a means to start and then create innovation. The second one would be trying to drive a framework or open communication among Nigerians. We are products of colonization and we are very competitive. If we can create frameworks that accelerate knowledge transfer and teamwork we will be getting things done cohesively.
(VC) Your 2018 exhibition Lagos Ghosts of Bar Beach and its theme of nostalgia and Lago de Curamo, it was widely received. As a seasoned creator, how does this make you feel?
(Ade Adekola) You ask a question I do not believe I have reflected on before. The answer perhaps is two-fold. A successful exhibition visually just looks great within a gallery context and this makes me happy, and for me without the commercial side of things, that’s been a more important factor. The other one is the way and manner in which the audience the works are produced for interact with the work. Because the work essentially are vehicles to deliver payloads which is the idea. I will be looking to see how successful each piece delivers its payload and the kind of dialogue and conversations. Those two factors measure a successful exhibition and its showcase.
Its almost spiritual in its process. Its like meditation, like you go into something much bigger, working to get the ideas to create a new kind of express. I am a little more subtle with brute force if that makes sense
(VC) In your quiet or noisy moments, how do you get inspired or get into that state of flow? Do you seek religion or get spiritual like many artists for muses?
(Ade Adekola) I think getting to the state of flow is very easy when you are practiced in getting into the state of flow. The more you meditate the easier it is to mediate. I can get myself in a state of flow without necessarily having primary triggers to get myself in the state if that makes sense? [Adekola laughs]. It’s almost spiritual in its process. It’s like meditation, like you go into something much bigger, working to get the ideas to create a new kind of expression. I am a little more subtle with brute force if that makes sense. Generally, something piques my curiosity, I think about it, I think about how to express it. When thinking of how to express it, this puts me in the flow zone. It is almost spiritual in its process. In the context of my environment, lots of what I do has a subversive
Works of Ade Adekola, Optic Nerve exhibition. Photo by The Avenue Creative LTD
(VC) Some mention the renaissance or the West African Pan-African times as an art period they admire. If you can time-warp back to any era, what time would it be and why?
(Ade Adekola) I think I will just stay here, present. Because time-warping myself to the past or the future, would not change me. I will be the same individual just in a different context. However, I will transport others back and forth to have a conversation with me, bringing in people such as Tesla, Jobs, Monet, and Bruce Lee. Having dinner parties! That’s what I will do with my teleportation device: to bring people to the present to have conversations with me as opposed to taking me to theirs.
(VC) At this stage of your professional career and accomplishments, If you could work alongside any other artist or curator who would it be and why?
(Ade Adekola) [Adekola smiles]. I am interested in quirky stuff. When I say quirky, I am interested in innovation, stuff that doesn’t have a preexisting reference. I am talking about my art and ideas. Being around stuff that looks like nothing. If I was to select artists to work with it, it would be to enrich the information that comes into my work. Right now I am playing with lots of installation and interactive work, 3-dimensional work. In terms of these directions, I would love to work with a group out in Japan called Teamlab who does great immersive technology, kinetics and lighting work. I would love to work with people doing new surface designs and 3D printing: for example, I love the innovation people like Jeff Koons brought to surface representation.
(VC) Where do you see you see yourself within the next 5 years?
(Ade Adekola) I have had my nose to the grindstone over the last few years, “cooking in the lab” if you will. Creating a very comprehensive and cohesive body of work. That work now needs to breath and become the touchstones they were designed to be, so it is time to engage actively with more audiences, locally and internationally. That would be my focus over the next few years: working within evolving and developed art eco-systems; you know them, New York, London, Paris, and Lagos with traditional and emerging intermediaries. I am deeply passionate about transforming the Nigerian mindset and society with my work so that will be a tireless pursuit also.